Like many of us during this restrictive time we’re living in, a handful of Nashville Predators‘ players picked themselves up from the sofa – or maybe even dragged themselves out of bed – and walked over to the computer to take a work call.
End-of-season interviews were conducted last week. A time to look back on the season that was and reflect, as well as look forward to the future. It’s a chance to discuss what’s in place, percolating in front of our very eyes.
Well, in the spirit of reflection, we can address the Predators’ preseason bold predictions that were made prior to this weird, improbable, emotional rollercoaster of a season.
Back in November, we outlined three bold but attainable predictions for individual Predators players. The three featured were Matt Duchene, Mattias Ekholm, and Eeli Tolvanen. Lofty goals were set, but the skill set of each player was taken into consideration. These weren’t just predictions that would make the individual look good, but what the team needed was also considered.
Matt Duchene Will Be a Point Per Game Player
This was the first bold prediction, and it may have garnered a little bit of a chuckle. It almost feels like the ever-so-popular definition of insanity. Instead, this time it’s more like insanity is predicting the same great things out of Duchene and expecting each year to finally be different. Dallas Cowboys fans can probably relate to this pain. Isn’t it always “their year,” only to crash and burn? Duchene should be a great player for the Predators, but he’s seriously struggled to show even any glimpses of being who the team needs him to be. Perhaps the mega-deal doesn’t help, but fans seemingly raise their hopes that the Predators will finally be rewarded for snagging a big free-agent prize, only to have those hopes shattered.
Duchene’s bold prediction was to be a point-per-game player. Well, that was miserably inaccurate, in fact, he didn’t even come close. The Haliburton, ON native averaged just 0.38 points per game. Granted, he was hurt for a large portion of the season. At one point, he missed 22 straight games with a lower-body injury. But it wasn’t exactly like the absence derailed his season. The Predators’ forward played in the team’s first 23 games and during that time, he registered just eight points, which included three goals.
As you can imagine, during Duchene’s end-of-season interview, he fielded questions about how he viewed his performance. He was clearly frustrated with his stats. He expects more from himself, he stated as much. But at the same time, he seemed a little defensive. It was almost like reporters asking him standard questions that anyone should expect after earning $8 million for less than half a point per game was uncalled for.
“Whether you’re looking at Advanced stats or whatever… all that stuff’s very high,” the 30-year-old said. “So, I’ve kind of done the fact-checking for myself to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.”
Now look, advanced stats are great. Here in the sports media world, they are relied on heavily to prove an argument or make more accurate predictions. However, during Duchene’s NHL career, he has recorded two 70-point seasons and seven campaigns with more than 50-points. He can score. He’s an offensive player and that’s what he was brought in to do. So, as much as the new generation loves advanced analytics, the old-school traditional stats are all that matter here. There may be a time in the future where the NHL has an award for best-advanced stats, but right now, goals, points and wins are most important.
Duchene understands this, he knows what’s important. He almost hid behind the rest of his team when talking about the lack of scoring, realizing that his production was just unacceptable.
“[W]e haven’t been a team that has scored a lot of goals over the last couple years and I think it’s kind of gone through the entire lineup,” Duchene said. “If it was just me… I would be searching deeper. But we’ve had a lot of guys play some good hockey and be snake bit and then I think at the end of the day, things even itself out.”
Again, the problem here, Matt, is not everyone on the team is paid $8 million per season and not everyone on the team is relied upon to score the way you are. Needless to say, this bold prediction was a swing and a miss.
Mattias Ekholm Finishes in Top-15 for Scoring by Defensemen
This prediction turned out to be an interesting one. To get it out of the way early, Ekholm did not finish inside the top-15, he actually finished 42nd in points among defensemen. However, it may not be as bad as it seems. Although 27 defensemen stood between Ekholm and this goal, he recorded just 12 points less than Morgan Rielly, who finished with the 15th most points among those playing the position.
Ekholm did also miss eight games during the course of the year. 12 points in eight games is a massive stretch, admittedly, but had he been able to play a full season, he could have made it even closer.
But the real reason the result of this prediction is interesting is that although he didn’t hit the mark, Ekholm still provided immense value to the team. The original bold prediction article discussed how achieving these predictions would help the Predators get back on track. And while some of the individual goals could be directly correlated to team success, i.e., Duchene scoring more, Ekholm didn’t need to be a top offensive defenseman for the Predators to be successful, it just would have been nice.
The Predators were plagued with injuries this season. Their top two defensemen, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, missed time, which overlapped at one point. That type of adversity can kill a team. The Predators struggled, but they didn’t fall apart and Ekholm played a big role in that.
When the captain was asked about those who stepped up this season, Josi specifically named Ekholm.
“I think he really, really stepped up,” Josi said. “I mean he played great, but he was great in the room, and he was like that all year. So, yeah, if there’s one guy that comes to mind right now, it’s Eky. I think he really stepped up and he was a great leader for us this year.”
So, his stats may not have been as glamorous as boldly predicted, but he arguably provided value far beyond traditional numbers. Plus, he did lead the team in plus/minus and finished inside the top-20 league-wide for defensemen in that category. Cue the eyerolls at the mention of plus/minus, but it can tell a little bit of a story, even if you have to take it with a pinch of salt.
Eeli Tolvanen Will Be a Calder Trophy Finalist
This one felt like such a long shot back in November. But at one point during the season, Tolvanen being a Calder Trophy finalist as rookie of the year, didn’t seem so farfetched. The former first-round pick seemingly rejuvenated the Predators’ power play singlehandedly. He finished the season with 11 goals and 11 assists, including six power-play goals, the team’s most. He also finished with the team’s third-most power-play points and was third leaguewide among rookies in that category.
The problem with Tolvanen seemed to be consistency. From March 15 till March 30, a span of nine games for the rookie, he registered 10 points. However, to end the season, the 22-year-old registered just one goal and three points in his final 10 games.
From March 1 through April 30, Tolvanen had the fifth most points by a rookie. But he struggled to put together a full season’s worth of work. It was up and down for the youngster and that never bodes well for these types of awards. Plus, like most other Predators, he suffered an injury. Tolvanen missed seven games in April, which certainly didn’t help his totals. Once he came back, he just didn’t look quite like himself. He seemed out of rhythm and his point production suffered. Tolvanen also didn’t make his season debut until Feb. 1, missing the team’s first eight games.
Kaprizov had a statistically dominant season, recording 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games. Robertson emerged as a critical player for a Stars team who were without two top scorers for the majority of the season in Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Robertson registered 17 goals and 45 points through 51 games. As for Nedeljkovic, well, Predators fans are more than familiar with him.
Tolvanen had an impressive campaign and fans should feel excited with the potential that the young forward has shown. He has a lethal shot and could be a massive weapon in the Predators’ offensive arsenal. This season proved that Tolvanen could play and exceed many of the youngest and brightest emerging stars in the league. However, his consistency will need improving for him to become a more rounded professional.
Midway through the 2020-21 season, the boldest prediction would have been the Predators making the playoffs. While none of these predictions made back in November came to fruition, two of three either came close and impressed, like Tolvanen or stepped up in other areas, like Ekholm. Ultimately, though the predictions went 0-for-3, but hey, remember, they were meant to be bold!
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27